Is there any point to self-evaluation?

That’s a fair question and just one of many I have no answer to.

I went back to class on Tuesday and I must say that after a 5-week break, it’s hard.  I know real teachers get the summer off and it must be hell come September.  I was not looking forward to it even though I love my job.  But, it was not as painful as I imagined.  I’m back in the swing of things.

We took a box of chocolates upstairs to the new English teacher, a young lass from England (22 years old) who seems quite pleasant.  She’s been teaching in some islands I can’t spell between Australia and New Zealand.  They don’t speak English there and it sounds very interesting.  She’s working her way home and will do the 2nd semester here.

We invited her to visit anytime and our thinking was, we visited so if she wants to visit, she’ll come.  She was here the next day with chat and questions.  So I think we’ll be friends, which is nice.  She hardly has any classes yet because if you look up “disorganized” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of this school.  She has my 2 2nd year classes (that’s 3 hours), and 2 classes of people taking English electives (another 3 hours).  That’s it.  My 2 new classes to replace the 2 I lost are also students taking English electives.

This school has a 2nd campus about 20 minutes away so Tuesday afternoon, Eleanor (her name) and I hit the bus to do our duty at the other campus.  I think they limited the class size to 40 (too damn many) and the first class I had 40.  The second class I had 50 students and I said, “whoa, there’s too many here.  Who doesn’t belong”.  The children wouldn’t confess except for 1 girl.  I asked her why she was in the class and she said she couldn’t get signed up but wanted to take English.  What could I do?  Throw her out?  Am I supposed to say, “Sorry, I can’t teach you”.  The others came forward after that with the same story so I let them stay.  I have no idea how to do a 50-person class but I’ll try.  This school should give the new girl some more electives so the classes could be trimmed down to reasonable sizes.

The difference with these students is that they chose English as opposed to my usual’s who have no choice.  I have no great brains that I can see, but I’d guess overall the average is better than my regulars.  These are also freshman students.  It’s nice to start a class where they want you.  It’s a buzz.

On the first day back (Tuesday) I asked them to tell me a bit about their vacation.  Boring.  It’s no fun listening to 40 people say, “I slept, I went shopping, I played computer games.”  And so on.  Boring.

I then went around the class and asked each student if they thought they’re English was better, worse, or the same as the start of the year.  I trust them to be honest since I believe I’ve made them believe I’m on their side and we’re not opponents and I’m not there to put them down.  In one class most kids said they were better and just a few said they were the same.

In the other class most said they were the same and a few said they were better.  Why the disconnect?  I must admit at first I was hurt and felt a bit of a failure and then I analyzed it.  And by Jove, I figured it out.

In my first class, most of the students make some kind of effort to speak.  Naturally, some more than others.  But those that try, find they improve.  In my 2nd class I’d say that maybe 10 out of 40 make an effort.  The 10 who speak and try all said they improve.  Those that sit like slugs and never open their mouths feel they haven’t improved.  Excuse me?  How do you improve if you don’t try.

I know I offer maximum comfort and a total lack of pressure in my class.  If you try, I never tell you you’re wrong.  I might say, “oh, so close”, or “good try”, but I never say, “you’re wrong”.  The students who care have told me that they like this.  They feel very comfortable in my class.  Chinese students do not as a rule feel comfortable in class.  It’s mostly memory work and they don’t have any teachers who will lay down on the desks or bang their head against the wall to make a point.

So, after realizing this I didn’t feel bad.  Those that try are improving; those that don’t try aren’t improving.  That makes sense.  In one class I separated 2 boys who are always talking to each other.  But I separated them because I thought that if I did that they had a chance.  Two classes later I realize they’re hopeless.  I can understand being frustrated by a new language but to not give it a shot in an atmosphere completely devoid of pressure is absurd.  And as they all know (and have seen it in their report cards), they are graded pretty much solely on effort.  If you’re lousy in English but you try and get a little better you’ll score higher than the person with good English who makes no effort and doesn’t get better.  How much easier can it get?

In my class of 75% slugs, I had 2 girls who put up their hands and asked/answered questions 2 days in a row.  I was pleased.  Maybe I’m getting through to a couple of them.  One of them I told, “I knew you knew some English.  Good for you.”  I then walked to the back of the class where the dunderheads seem to gather and told most of them that there was no hope for them, and I told a couple that I thought they knew something and had the ability to get better if they made the effort.  We’ll see.  I can’t force them, and I can’t get down on myself if everyone doesn’t jump on the bus.

The kids are getting to know my humour and it’s great when almost everyone laughs when I make one of my lame jokes.  For example, the other day I was asking, “what is a close friend”.  One girl replied with a bunch of stuff including, “we can go shopping together, we can sleep together”, and so on.  I said, “If I go shopping with you and I sleep with you then I can be your close friend”.  I’d say 90% of the class got it and laughed.  I felt great.  I would never make a joke with any sexual connotations but she had opened the door and no one was offended.  It was a high.

I’ve told them they have to talk more this term.  I will let silence rule if I must.  I don’t have to fill the dead air.  I can talk and talk and talk.  But I’m going to try and cut down on that and put it on their heads.  We shall see.

I asked for suggestions of what to do and one boy said, “learn songs”.  I told him that I don’t sing and he can’t sing either.  I told him that sometimes I bring in songs to discuss and learn.  Maybe if he showed up to more classes he would know that.  One boy (the only one with a good idea) said he wanted to know more about the culture I come from.  He’s right.  I should be sharing some of the culture of the outside world to them.  I want them to see there is good and bad elsewhere.  Some Chinese things are better and some Western things are better.

The students would also like to have some classes outside and so would I.  When the weather warms up we’ll try it.  If you saw these classrooms you’d understand why.  I think it’s a great idea if they stay quiet so we’ll try it.

Then I thought we should all go bowling.  It has nothing to do with English but it’s a “bonding” thing.  Guess what?  There is no bowling alley in Jurong.  So I suggested we go to Nanjing for a day (about 1 hour by bus and a city of 5 million).  The kids were positive about that and I said if someone doesn’t have the finances to write me and let me know.  However, I don’t want 40 pleas for money.  I think I can pay for 5 kids.  Now it’s in their court as to what we should do.  I’m open to anything.

I asked Wang Jing if I could take them and she said yes.  She then asked me if I wanted a school bus and I replied that if it was possible.  She told me I’d be totally responsible for the kids and I assured her that no more than 3 kids would die.  When Shujie saw her it seems if I want a bus (which I do), I have to have a detailed plan.  It helps that Shujie will come since they’d like a native Chinese person along in case of difficulty.  It will happen when the weather improves, but I hope we really do pull it off.  It’s a good idea.  I don’t know if anyone will learn anything, but if they have fun it plants the idea that they had fun in English class and HEY, that’s not so bad.

I will never know how I performed this year.  I guess that doesn’t bother me because I’ll forget most of these people in a few years and they’ll forget me.  I hope I had some sort of positive impact on their lives.  I think that’s what I’ve been aiming for more than “teaching English”.  Now I know when they get me as a teacher, they don’t get a “normal” guy.  I’m weird.  I like being weird.  I think I entertain them.  I think I make them relaxed.  I feel I’ve set them up to advance (those that care to), and that’s not a bad thing.

I’ve put my name in with one agency already for next year.  I’m definitely doing this again.  I’ve had too much fun and I enjoy being friends with youngin’s.  We need to find a place where Shujie has a chance to work.  It will have to be a University even though I can make 3 times as much as a kindergarten teacher (go figure), and I want English majors (so I can have decent conversations with people who have made a conscious decision to speak English).  I hope by starting early I’ll luck into some well-organized school (although well-organized is against the law here).  We shall see.

When I left Canada I was taking 40 units of insulin nightly for my diabetes along with my pills and another injection of something that helps the insulin works.  It was doing an excellent job for me.  Now this new medicine that helps the insulin is expensive and I can’t afford it, so I gave it up.  I stayed with the 40 units and my blood sugar is fine.  I’ve worked my way down to 28 units and I can’t figure it.  I wake up, test my sugar, and it’s normal.  I’m not complaining, but it’s weird.  I don’t exercise and I eat chicken, beef, cheese, tomatoes and bread.  Something weird is going on but who am I to complain about this?

I would love to see some movies that have been released since September.  We’re going to Nanjing next Friday on an “insulin run” so we’ll check out some DVD places.  Hopefully we’ll get lucky.  I guess I’ll have Subway for lunch (I’m so predictable).  I may buy an external hard drive since mine is getting pretty filled up.  They are so cheap now but I’m also considering buying a new computer in the summer.  Why?  I don’t know.  Do I want a new Iphone?  Yes, but I don’t know why.  They are a waste of money.  I don’t’ play apps but I do use the “Ipod” function when I’m on the bus.  Who knows what I’ll waste my money on.

I showed “JAWS” this week.  What a laugh.  I loved when I could hear the girls scream when the shark popped up.  And the students love it when I laugh at the jokes they don’t get.  But the movie was a hit as I knew it would be.  I have high hopes for “Sixth Sense” this week.  I’m glad I got movies to show.  I don’t get the numbers I hoped I would, but I do get several people who actually enjoy the movies and are getting a chance to see things they never would have seen on their own.  I have a few who say they don’t like “black and white” movies.  I tell them that all the great movies are in black and white.  Ah, youth.  Was I ever that dumb?  Probably but in a different way.

It’s sunny and cold today.  In fact it’s so cold we are reconsidering “shao kow” (bbq) tonight.  It’s been many weeks and I was looking forward to it but sitting outside in the freezing cold it’s not the most fun you can have.

I remember Korea when I would blog almost every day.  I couldn’t wait to pour out my moans and groans.  This is so different.  I like to write but I have no compulsion to do so.  It’s nice to know I don’t always have to be miserable and there is joy to be found in everyday life.

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